Today we're going to put on our headphones, kick back in the beanbag, and get mellow to the soothing sounds of the latest digital drug: binaural beats. These computer generated sound files are said to massage your brain and produce all sorts of effects, everything from psychedelic experiences to behavior modification. Let's point our skeptical eye at the science of binaural beats, and especially at some of the claims made for them.
Isochronic tones are the newest technological advancement in the field of brainwave entrainment. Isochronic tones are regular beats of a single tone. In fact, an isochronic tone is a tone that is being turned on and off rapidly at regular intervals, creating sharp and distinctive pulses of sound. This effect called “Amplitude Entrainment” tends to excite the thalamus and causes the brain to generate the same brainwave frequency (“frequency following response”) as the tone. The thalamus, vital structure lying deep within the brain, has multiple important functions: it is involved in sensory and motor signal relay, and the regulation of consciousness and sleep. Therefore, the use of isochronic tones is a very effective way to induce a desired brainwave state.
Beware simple answers to complex problems, or easy methods for accomplishing difficult goals. If you combine this maxim with the advice to be skeptical of any claims that are being made in order to sell you something – then ironically you have a simple method (perhaps I should call it an “elegant” method) for protecting yourself from most scams and cons. Actually the application of this combination of maxims can be complex, but what it does do is trigger doubt and skeptical analysis. (And to be clear I am not saying that all simple solutions must be wrong – you should just beware them, meaning your skeptical senses should be tingling.)
Gamma brainwaves possess the highest frequency we know of. In this state, our brainwaves are so harmonious that many people report feeling elevated states of consciousness, even spiritual experiences. This frequency is often experienced by monks, nuns, yogis, and experienced meditators. Gamma frequencies also enhance memory, awareness, and mental processing.
Theta brainwaves in the frequency range of 6 to 9 hertz are known as thalpha waves because of their proximity to alpha waves. They are seen during states of high suggestibility, during hypnosis, and during paranormal experience and are also connected to an increase in human growth hormone (HGH) levels and higher blood flow to the brain. Theta brainwaves sit between the realms of the subconscious and conscious mind, making them an especially useful brainwave state for developing creative thinking, working through emotional problems, and integrating subconscious and conscious experience.
Effects on cortisol: The hormone cortisol is commonly associated with stress, and when levels are higher than usual, it can have a negative impact on the body. High levels of cortisol can lead to a range of conditions, including Cushing syndrome, menstrual cycle and female libido changes, anxiety, and depression. Dr. Giampapa noted a reduction of cortisol of up to 70-80 percent in several study participants.
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Binaural beats, or binaural tones, are auditory processing artifacts (apparent sounds) resulting from the stimulation of the ears with two different sound frequencies. In fact, when two different vibrations are delivered to the brain separately through each ear, using stereo headphones, the two hemispheres of the brain function together to “hear” and perceive not the external sound signals, but a third phantom signal. This resulting signal, discovered in 1839 by Heinrich Wilhelm Dove, is called “binaural beat”. The effect on the brain waves depends on the difference of each tone. For example, if a sound frequency of 300 Hz is played in the left ear and 307 Hz in the right one, then the binaural beat would have a frequency of 7 Hz (“frequency following response”) which corresponds to the Alpha brain state, generally associated with relaxation, visualization and creativity. The beating tone is perceived as if the two tones mixed naturally, out of the brain. For the binaural beat effect to occur, the difference between the two frequencies must be small (less than or equal to 30 Hz), otherwise, the two tones will be heard separately, and no beat will be perceived.
Brainwave entrainment is a field of study and endeavor founded in the same physiological and psychological processes that make music, drumming, and chanting so powerful as methods for transforming the mind and spirit and aiding in healing of the body. These processes involve how the electrical energy in our brains synchronizes with sounds and visual stimuli, producing a particular brainwave frequency and its associated mental states.
I was failing to achieve deep physical relaxation and looking for ways to shift my consciousness. After trying out many ‘solutions’ - including some truly bizarre ones - I decided to stop for a while and take a break before my next attempts at astral projection. That’s when I was recommended X. I must say it has been instrumental in helping me enter the state of relaxation and vibration necessary to a satisfactory OBE.
Studies have shown binaural beats may affect levels of dopamine, a hormone that plays a broad role in cognition and a particular role in creative thinking. This has scientists examining the possibility that binaural beats can be used to stimulate creativity. (If you’re looking to be more creative and innovative in your thinking, keep in mind that sleep itself is a powerful tool!)
Other entrainment methods sometimes used include autopan modulation that moves sound in an 180º arc to create a desired tone. Harmonic box entrainment, invented by James Mann, uses a layering of binaural and monaural tones that alternate between ears, requiring headphones. Sound modulation and filtering, amplitude modulation, and pitch panning use diverse sounds to create rhythmic pulses matched to the desired brainwave frequency.
The Frequency following response (FFR), also referred to as Frequency Following Potential (FFP), is a specific response to hearing sound and music, by which neural oscillations adjust their frequency to match the rhythm of auditory stimuli. The use of sound with intent to influence cortical brainwave frequency is called auditory driving, by which frequency of neural oscillation is 'driven' to entrain with that of the rhythm of a sound source.